Saints strong safety Vonn Bell sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton with 6 seconds left in the game to lock down a 31-26 victory in the Wild Card round of the National Football League playoffs before a delirious and predominantly pro-Saints crowd of 73,186.
Even though Payton's gamble failed - Drew Brees threw an interception at the Carolina 31 - a tired Saints defense had just enough closing stamina to keep the Panthers out of the end zone and preserve a wild, 31-26 wild-card playoff victory over the Panthers. Brees was 7-7 on the drive.
"It's hard to beat a team three times in a season", has been a popular refrain since the Saints were paired with the Panthers.
We wanted a great game between these two bitter NFC South rivals and we certainly got it.
When the dust had settled, Drew Brees made sure that this latest trip to the playoffs would last more than one week.
"Then let's go for it", Brees said.
Newton was sacked on Carolina's final play, a 17-yard loss. However, he was ruled to still be in the pocket and intentional grounding was called. "I thought the early portion of the game where we were able to hold them to field goals proved most valuable".
"It doesn't matter what I think, but that game didn't come down to that" call, he said. The score remained knotted at 0-0 until Drew Brees uncorked an 80 yard touchdown pass to former-Panther Ted Ginn Jr. But the Panthers killed themselves with red-zone failures.
The Panthers scored on three Graham Gano field goals, one from 27 yards, one from 39 yards and the final one from 58 yard as time expired. "(The fans) were as good tonight as I've heard in a long time". "My helmet had come down low enough over my eyelid and it got pressed by the player's stomach". "When you do that, you put yourself in a very scary position". Newton briefly left the game and cleared a medical-tent examination, but while that was going on, the Saints were once again crafting a masterful drive. But the Panthers simply could not get into the end zone to finish drives until Newton threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with just less than 13 minutes remaining. Kamara had 10 carries for 23 yards and one touchdown and one reception for 10 yards.
Mario Addison (Tarrant, Troy) started at defensive end for the Panthers, but did not record any stats.
When it takes four seconds to decide whether to throw a flag on a blatant pass interference, in which the cornerback tackled the receiver by the ankles before the ball arrived, the officiating has to be questioned. "And it was really getting poked in the eye".
Two plays later, a touchdown run by Alvin Kamara helped the Saints to a 31-19 lead. "(Former Saints assistant) Joe Vitt had a saying: "'You win a Super Bowl, you walk together forever'. They did suffer a loss to the offensive line that safeguards Brees when guard Andrus Peat was taken from the field on a cart, reportedly after suffering a fractured fibula.
Down five, the Panthers failed to convert a first down, and had to punt to the Saints, who took over at their own 38 with just more than eight minutes left.